The quality of undergraduate education has become a central question
in academic and policy circles in recent decades. But how do we define
quality? And how can we measure it? While many actors in the higher
education arena are grappling with these issues, we believe it is
crucial for faculty to be a leading voice in the quality conversation.
The SSRC’s Measuring College Learning project, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Teagle Foundation,
brings faculty into the quality conversation by engaging them in
consensus-driven discussions about learning outcomes and assessment in
MCL builds on decades of prior work by the
higher education community, including efforts to develop guidelines for
general learning outcomes. These efforts have led to the creation of a
range of tools that faculty can use to measure students’ general skills,
such as critical thinking, complex reasoning, and problem solving.
However, as beneficial as these resources are, they do not cover the
full scope of learning in higher education. The next step in this
process, and the main focus of MCL, is to concentrate on developing 21st century tools to measure field-specific learning.
December 2013, MCL has been bringing panels of faculty together from
six fields of study (biology, business, communication, economics,
history, and sociology) to identify the essential 21st century competencies, conceptual knowledge, and practices that students
in their fields should develop in college, in the introductory course as
well as the major. Rather than striving to produce exhaustive or
comprehensive lists of learning outcomes for these fields, the project
aims to help faculty develop consensus around a limited set of
empirically measurable “essential competencies and concepts” that
reflect their top priorities for student learning. The faculty are also
discussing the current status and future direction of assessment in
their field. Pairs of faculty from each field are authoring a white
paper synthesizing and expanding upon the work of these panels, which
will be made publicly available in early 2016.
It is our hope
that this project, through its white papers on learning outcomes and
assessment as well as a range of outreach efforts, will spark fruitful
department and field-level discussions in each of the six MCL fields. In
addition, we are in the early stages of conceptualizing a demonstration
project that would focus on one of the fields. In this endeavor, we
would partner with one or more assessment firms to develop a new
faculty-informed field-specific instrument and field test it alongside
existing instruments of generic collegiate skills and measures of
instructional practices. The goal of the demonstration project would be
to pilot test the new instrument as well as to examine the relationship
between subject-specific skills, general collegiate skills, and
instructional practices. Improving our understanding of these
relationships is crucial in order to craft a sound agenda for using
assessment to improve the quality of higher education.
the landscape of assessment in higher education is a significant
undertaking, and one that must be approached thoughtfully and
deliberately. To this end, MCL is dedicated to the following core
- Faculty should be at the center of defining and developing transparent learning outcome standards for undergraduates.
from all backgrounds and institutions should be given a fair
opportunity to demonstrate their skills when transferring from one
institution to another and when transitioning into the workforce.
of student learning should be rigorous and high-quality and should
yield data that allow for comparisons over time and between
- Assessment tools should be used by institutions on a voluntary basis.
- Any single measure of student learning should be part of a larger holistic assessment plan.
For more information and updates about the Measuring College Learning project, visit highered.ssrc.org.